Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction – A mega-yawn
The Team America song, “Pearl Harbor,” probably said it best when the lyrics asked, “Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?” Unfortunately the answer is that the infamous director’s films continue to make a crap-ton of money, despite how god-awful bad most of them are; and when it comes to the amount of moola his latest flick, Transformers: Age of Extinction, is likely to make, I’m certain it will be no exception.
If you look closely at Age of Extinction, I’m pretty sure that Bay takes a fun jab back at Team America when one of the film’s villains is standing in front of a letter board that proclaims, “Freedom isn’t Free.” But catching that little Easter egg, be it intentional or not, is probably the most fun I had at this movie, which is a “mega-yawn” at almost three-hours in length.
I’m not the most astute student of the Transformers mythos, but if you are, then you will likely have a much more enjoyable time sitting through this latest Autobot effort than I did (or maybe not.) I do like me some Optimus Prime though and I love his heroic posturing and many of his corny leadership lines, but even the good parts of this movie wear thin quickly – probably because, with this being the fourth film in the franchise since 2007, we’ve seen it all before.
The new film takes place four years after the last movie and it’s “Battle of Chicago,” and for this round, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is mercifully gone and in his place we have Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) who operates “Yeager Robotics” out of his barn in some rural Texas community, along with his “sexy and seventeen” daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), who is the Age of Extinction version of Megan Fox, and his comedic relief pal, Lucas Flannery (T.J. Miller – Erlich from HBO’s Silicon Valley.)
[It would be interesting to learn how “The Right Stuff” test pilot, "Chuck" Yeager, feels about having his name co-opted for a Transformers film.]
Oh, and did I mention that Tessa has an Irish race-car driver boyfriend (Jack Reynor)? Apparently the story called for someone who could drive a car crazy-fast, although I’m not sure why they had to be Irish other than it was an excuse for Wahlberg to call someone “Lucky Charms” for most of the movie.
Cade finds a beat-up semi-truck that is inexplicably housed in a dilapidated old movie theater and brings the vehicle home to repair it. But, surprise, the run-down hunk is actually Optimus Prime, who has been in hiding since the humans have decided that all Autobots must be destroyed, be they good or bad.
The CIA unit responsible for Autobot annihilation, led by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), converges on the Yeager farm and from that point on the film is almost non-stop action, explosions, screaming, fighting, , buildings collapsing, car chases, Autobots tumbling and parkour maneuvering. Yet somehow, despite the din, this movie still manages to be seriously sleep-inducing. Maybe I’m simply Transformered-out, or I’m just so emotionally disconnected from these characters and their robotic world that I don’t care if it’s destroyed.
There are Autobots, Decepticons, bounty hunter Decepticons, all manner of aliens, Dinobots and whatever it is that the Dinobots transform in and out of (ancient Autobots I think), and then there is the “seed” that everyone is after; a biological bomb that changes its surroundings into “transformium,” the metal used to make the Transformers. If you saw Prometheus, then you’ll likely recognize the “aliens interfering with evolution” motif in Age of Extinction.
So that’s the gist of the story, but what a superfluous third of this film is mostly about is product placement, which I guess shouldn’t be such a surprise when the main characters of the movie began their pop culture life as a commercial product. (So does make the entire film one long product placement gimmick? I think it does.)
What makes the in-your-face advertisements so difficult is that there are entire sequences devoted entirely to showing brand names (some of them unknown to American audiences.) Do you want to spend your hard-earned money to watch an embedded 30-second commercial of Stanley Tucci sucking on some weird Chinese milk product? (If your answer is “yes” then you are probably looking for a different website.)
Do you think I’m exaggerating? Here’s a case-in-point: a Chinese corporation is currently threatening to sue the American filmmakers because their paid advertising is not prominent enough in the finished film (see this article from variety.com), and even threatened to delay the release of the movie in China unless their featured hotel was edited from the movie and their money returned.
I’m all with the Chinese on this one. Bay should cut an hour out of the movie and return all of the endorsement monies. He’ll have a much tighter and more enjoyable film that doesn’t insult paying moviegoers (and that will still make a ton of money.)
Age of Extinction is shot with the Michael Bay signature sunsets and American flags blowing in the breeze, and an Imagine Dragons ballad thrown in for good measure. Most of the special effects are jaw-dropping amazing, but are somehow easily taken for granted. I guess I’m just numb to seeing cities destroyed on film, but I do admit that the Dinobots were pretty darn cool to watch.
If you are a die-hard Transformers fan, then you’ll be headed to this movie regardless of anything I write, but if you are just Autobot-curious, or if you hated the other movies in this franchise, I’d avoid this film altogether as it’s one of the worst of the lot.
Photos © 2014 Paramount Pictures